Co-operators – what a year it has been. For those of us who believe in an open, inclusive, outward-facing and democratic society, it has been a difficult time. Our nation feels divided, and our future place in world less certain. Our country remains too unequal, and power is held by too few and too often not exercised in the interests of the many.

But what this co-operatives fortnight has shown once again, is that the co-operative movement, our values and our principles, can be part of the solution.

I want to congratulate Ed and his team at Co-ops UK for a great fortnight culminating in today’s Congress. The Co-operative Economy report, the new Co-operative Development Strategy and the many many inspiring co-operative stories that you have been sharing over the last couple of weeks will have inspired many and give us a great foundation upon which to move forward.

I hardly need to tell you that it has been a year of uncertainty and change in politics. If I had told you a year ago that the only Westminster Party leader still in their job today would be Jeremy Corbyn, I doubt many of you would have believed me. That we would have a snap General Election, which would see Labour win back seats in the South of England and the Conservatives make a significant come back in Scotland – again you would have been forgiven for thinking that I was out of touch.

As we all continue to analyse and understand the result of the General Election as well as the response to some of the other events that have shaken our country over the last few weeks, what is clear is that there is an appetite for change. I believe that working together we can respond positively to that and offer a better future.

And the good news is that the Co-operative Party is fighting fit, in our centenary year, to play a positive role in this.

We have the largest ever group of Co-operative MPs in Westminster, with a new intake including members who have worked in co-operative development, in co-op shops, with the Woodcraft Folk; and promoted co-operative solutions in local government and in the European Parliament.

After another successful set of local elections, we have Co-operative Councillors across Britain from Aberdeen to Plymouth and from Norwich to Carmarthenshire. And we were particularly pleased that Andy Burnham was elected as the first Labour & Co-operative Metro Mayor for greater Manchester. In Wales, we have Co-operative Party Assembly members in Government with critical portfolios including health, social care, and education.

We know that there are those that share our co-operative values elected to office from other political parties; and share the view that the co-operative movement must engage with politicians and policy makers from across the political spectrum. Indeed, our Co-operative MPs, MSPs, Peers, AMs and Councillors work with their colleagues from other parties whenever possible to advance our shared agenda – initiating debates and motions upon which to build cross-Party support.

But, I believe that, as the film said, the decision of those far-sighted co-operators, 100 years ago, not just to lobby but to organise, means that today the movement doesn’t have to rely on good luck or goodwill to get a hearing for our co-operative values in the rooms where decisions are made. You have an army of advocates for co-operation in Parliaments, Assemblies and Town Halls across Britain.

And I know that people take different views about the Co-operative Party’s historic Electoral Agreement with the Labour Party, and I acknowledge and respect those opinions. But we have seen some of the fruits of that partnership at this election. Not only were we able to elect 38 co-operators to Parliament but also the Labour Party’s manifesto had our co-operative values running through it like the writing through a stick of rock. With the commitment to work with all of us to double the size of the co-operative economy, arguably one of the most far-reaching commitments the Labour Party has ever made to this movement.

Earlier in the year I wrote an open letter to those co-operators who created the Party 100 years ago. Thousands of individuals co-signed it. And so today, I would like to put on record our gratitude to those who came together at that Emergency meeting of the Co-operative Congress to pass the motion in favour of creating what today is the Co-operative Party. But also to those of you who continue to make the case for the Party today. Thank you.

A century later, we know that there is critical work to do be done.

  • To make the case that successful and dynamic businesses can be run by people, and for people, and that all who contribute to our economy’s success should benefit from it.
  • To argue for a diverse, open, and confident United Kingdom, in which the only barriers are a shared sense of responsibility and a willingness to contribute to the good of the whole.
  • To support communities buffeted by globalisation, using co-operative values to restore prosperity and power.
  • And to take on those who would treat co-operatives less favourably in regulation or law.

Britain should be the best place in the world to establish and grow a co-operative enterprise or organisation. We know we’re not there yet.

And the experience of the last 100 years is that we will achieve this change, one small victory at a time. Just as we did in March when Co-operative MP Adrian Bailey, working with Co-ops UK, won a change in the audit requirement for small co-operatives. It doesn’t hit the headlines, but we know that these incremental changes can make a significant difference to you. And so we will work tirelessly to achieve them.

But we think there is another critical element to our task – and agree strongly with its inclusion in Co-operative Development Strategy – and that is the need to educate and inspire the public and decision makers about co-operation.

We have a great story to tell and we will continue to dedicate our growing membership, our growing online presence and our campaigning capacity to do just that.

The Co-operative Party is your Party. We are at your service. The next hundred years can be a century shaped by co-operators and co-operation even more profoundly than the last. Standing together we will.